Best. Week. Ever.

Your favorite restaurants at a discount

Plenty of people pounce on dining deals, especially during one particularly well-promoted week. But we all know it can be a total zoo–reservations booked months in advance, extra tables shoved into dining rooms. No one wants that.

That's why, instead, we look forward to Chicago Chef Week. Started as a low-cost alternative to Restaurant Week (yes, it costs restaurants something to participate), Chef Week is less crazed and includes places you can't often find at bargain prices. Generally speaking, lunches cost $22 and dinners $44, but there are special deals (and some upsells) so confirm before you dine.

Here are our picks among this year's participating restaurants:

Nico Osteria (Lunch only): If you haven't had a chance to dine at this new Paul Kahan-backed hotspot, now's the time. Follow a dish of spaghetti al'Nico with an affogato made with sweet cream gelato and cardamom.

North Pond (Dinner only): Spending $44 for dinner at North Pond, one of our all-time faves, is a real bargain. Choose from a charred flatiron steak with short ribs and garlic scapes or Great Lakes whitefish with fennel-lobster bouillabaisse.

Azzurra (Dinner only): We'll jump at any excuse to eat at this Wicker Park Italian spot. A meal of burratta, lobster and shrimp risotto followed by pork braciole? That's a pretty good excuse. Bonus: You can pick any dessert on the menu to end your meal.

Cicchetti (Lunch and dinner): We've been dreaming of the reverse affogato ever since we first dined here, and it just happens to be on the Chef Week menu. Other dreamy dishes? Pork cracklings with Parmesan and rosemary and gnocchi with braised pork shank.